ADVOCACY MINDANOW: A Day in Baganga and Cateel


DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/2 April)–Last Monday, I joined retired Archbishop (Emeritus) NANDING CAPALLA together with retired publisher NILO CLAUDIO and visited “Typhoon Pablo’s” whacked areas Baganga and Cateel in Davao Oriental — almost about 4 months after the devastation. Retired Col. SAMMY AFDAL, whose Bell helicopter shuttled us   to the coastal towns, decided to skip the trip as it was his birthday that day.

Oooops, I almost did not notice it but yes, all of us are RETIRED. No, definitely not yet tired. But spell it “RE-TIRED” — new tires fitted for more road traction on the long, long road still ahead! (At our age, it’s good to deceive and console ourselves once in a while. hahaha!)

The flight was shorter, less than one hour, than the last time Sammy and I flew one month after “Typhoon Pablo” last January.   The last time, we had to skim the coast due to bad weather. This time, veteran pilot Capt. REY ACOSTA crossed over the mountain range. The weather was perfect.

We landed at the abandoned airstrip at Lambajon just off the center of Baganga town.  It used to be an old logging area and during the early years, there were chartered commuter planes connecting  Baganga town since there were no good roads then. I remember in the early 70’s while still a young law practitioner, I was representing a housemaid who accused four Baganga policemen of raping her. I would fly to attend court trials there via “UNIAIR”, a chartered single-engine 4-seater provided by the priests who convinced me to take on the case “pro bono”.  I did but with great hesitation, not only for the obvious physical dangers of prosecuting local armed policemen in their own turf, but due to the remoteness  of Baganga. (Obviously, it was a celebrated case and I recall, the whole town would climb trees around the full-packed  “municipyo” just to witness the trial.)  Our single-engine plane then would make several fly-bys to shoo away goats and carabao grazing before the bumpy touchdown amid swaying coconut trees close to call for a landing.

Last Monday, Capt. Acosta flawlessly landed the chopper at a spot beyond the reach of the rope of a grazing cow who looked bewildered at the rotor noise and wind gust.  After a quick breakfast at a destroyed  parish church (or whatever was left of it), we motored to interior Sitio Banahaw. There we met and dialogued with Mandaya and  “erstwhile” coconut farmers — “erstwhile” because there were no more coconut trees to speak of! We unloaded some goodies from Nilo’s “Midtown Printing” van that ferried them all the way from Davao City (7 hours on the road) courtesy of “Nanding Boys” and Archbishop Nanding’s volunteers from Davao City. Even the medical dental team of the ANFLOCOR FOUNDATION sent by ANTHONY ‘TARAS’ SASIN joined us.

From there, we took off again for a brief flight to Cateel, the next town and considered the worst hit. Capt. Acosta maneuvered the chopper in a clearing hedged between two destroyed buildings with twisted iron trusses and steel frames like crumpled paper.  It was to be the brand new public market of Cateel town but never got to its inaugural opening day. “Typhoon Pablo” overtook the occasion.

We motored to the site of the “Gawad Kalinga” project where construction of about 35 new houses (of the planned 100 units) for the victims was just on its fourth day. GK’s RENE RIETA and BRENDA MILAN, wife of ART MILAN of Davao Light & Power Co. were there with their team. Here one can marvel at the volunteerism of those who came to help. There were office employees from companies and groups from as far as  Manila and surrounding areas who encamped under spartan conditions, staying there for days and building structures to give new hope to the locals. Archbishop Nanding said mass for all of the volunteers on a makeshift stage.

Then we motored to San Alfonso Elementary School, an interior area and inspected restoration work done on the destroyed classrooms assisted by the “Nanding Boys” under the “ROOF A CLASSROOM PROJECT” where generous donors helped with their cash donations to quickly put roofs on destroyed schoolhouses.  The school principal was effusively telling us that the school was ready to hold its graduation ceremonies that week not worried if the rains would come.

We took off back to Davao City that afternoon. As we hovered and cruised overhead, the destroyed houses had new roofs, some with temporary plastic materials.  The landscape that used to be dark started to look green. The felled coconut trees (estimated at several millions) still litter the hillside, perhaps being attacked now by beetle (or “bakukang”) and might lose their economic value in a few months if nothing is done about it fast.

An idea came to mind: why not flood the area with chainsaws so the locals can save those coco lumber that can be barged (by sea) to the market outside? They earn a livelihood and they can clear their lands for new trees or new crops for the future. Just a thought.

I cannot forget the look on the faces of those who gathered around when we landed in Baganga. Their excitement, and brightened faces, on seeing visitors in a helicopter suddenly disappeared when we talked about “the future”.  The relief assistance could tide them over but there WAS NO ‘PANGINABUHI-AN” or livelihood for tomorrow.

Typhoon Pablo deleted their future. Shall we all help to restore?

(Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza was government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF under the Arroyo administration from 2001 to 2003 and was later named Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (2005 to 2008). He heads Advocacy MindaNOW Foundation, Inc. and was recently named publisher of the Davao City-based Mindanao Times. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW).